Aurora’s Wittenberg really is a crowd pleaser

22 Apr

WittenbergIf you haven’t yet seen Wittenberg at the Aurora Theater, run now and get tickets. (Okay, it’s probably easier to call the box office, which is only open during business hours, so if you’re reading this before 9:00 or after 5:00, then you may have to wait.)

I highly recommend this witty, energetic, smart production. The setting is Wittenberg University, a sort of UC Berkeley of the early 16th century. The cast of characters is full of familiar names, but it will be the first time you see all of them portrayed on the same stage at once. First, there’s a young Prince Hamlet, back when he was still a student, before the whole tragedy of his uncle killing his father and marrying his mother. (Oops, I should have given a spoiler alert…) Wittenberg‘s Hamlet is a promising tennis player who (not surprisingly) is having difficulty with a weighty decision—he has to declare a major.

Enter his philosophy professor, Dr. Faustus, who questions authority, the church, and, well, everything. Faustus does his best to convince the future king to study philosophy and—playing the role of the devil before he makes his own bargain—take drugs. Of course Hamlet’s theology prof, Martin Luther (future father of the Protestant Reformation) is encouraging the young prince to follow God. Let the wackiness ensue.

Bay Area veteran actor Dan Hiatt deftly plays Martin Luther, a man whose faith tells him that the Catholic Church is going astray but who loves the church and genuinely wants to reform from within. Luther has a love/hate relationship with his buddy and nemesis, Faustus, and many of the play’s strongest moments are their debates.

New to Aurora, Michael Stevenson is great as Faustus and performs with abundant energy and exuberance—the cool, funny prof with a mischievous streak and the best weed. But he also shows vulnerability and heart as the hopeful bridegroom.

Jeremy Kahn may have the most difficult role to pull off, considering Hamlet is a character with whom the audience is already quite familiar. But this is Hamlet when he was still innocent, before he has to avenge his father’s murder, and so can be played with a lightness and humor that Olivier could never have considered. I’ve seen Kahn play two other roles that were vastly different from this one, and he performed all three quite convincingly. (His Bill Gates is certainly worlds apart from the young Dane.)

Infused with several references to Shakespeare’s rather more somber play, Wittenberg turns well-known lines from Hamlet‘s soliloquy upside down, squeezing comedy from unlikely sources. Director Josh Costello uses the intimate theater space to the play’s advantage, transforming audience members into Hamlet’s classmates at Wittenberg, where we experience his dilemma of being torn between his two mentors.

Despite the laughter—and there is much of it—several serious themes arise as well, including faith versus knowledge, rebellion versus authority, the power of free speech, the complexity of love, and the question: what is true independence?

Due to a playful under-the-sheets sex scene that is quite funny, this is not a show for kids. But it is wonderful theater that made me laugh out loud and think about serious issues. How many plays can do that?

Food at Everest Cafe scores high*

15 Apr

everest

As I was beginning this post, I kept trying to think of a headline using the restaurant’s name  in a clever way but couldn’t come up with any good enough to use. You know, like “Everest is the peak of Nepalese cuisine” or “You don’t have to climb a mountain to get good food at Everest.”

Lucky for all of you that I settled for a boring title rather than one that would offend your sensibilities or make you groan out loud.

Let me take just a momentary side trip to say how nice it is when George lunches with Dave and me. Not only do we get to try more dishes that way, but we have someone else to talk to. Now I adore my husband, and we are perfect for each other. But after working together all week and eating almost every meal together, another person with experiences outside our house/office is a welcome addition to the conversation. Besides George knows more about food than I do, so he’s well suited to accompany us on this lunching journey.

But on to the food! I started with a nice hot Nepali chai. I couldn’t tell how it was inherently different from a non-Nepali chai, but it was especially good. George perused the wine menu and had a glass of chenin blanc from Sula Vinyard, which he recognized as an Indian wine that he’d had before and really liked. (I myself have never had a wine from India, but my sense is that India is known more for its samosas than its wine.) Dave just had water until he tasted my chai, and then he ordered a chai of his own.

The lunch menu had specials that included papadam, naan, the obligatory salad, raita, basmati rice, a soup, and a cold potato cucumber dish—all for $8.99. The cold dish probably isn’t something I would order on its own, but it was fine as accompaniment. The obligatory mini-salad was edible but not exciting. (At least it didn’t suffer from Thousand Island dressing or some awful equivalent.) Everything else was great.

I ordered a pumpkin garbanzo dish that was spicy and delicious. (See photo.) George got the goat curry and pronounced it “really good.” Dave also enjoyed his noodle dish a lot, which had all kinds of stuff going on, and the broth was quite flavorful.

The only oddity was my plate, which looked like it was stolen from a prison, or at the very least, a cut-rate summer camp. I imagine an uprising at a penitentiary where the inmates have flung their food off their metal plates and have started bashing them against the prison bars, inciting a riot of major proportions. “ATTICA! ATTICA!” or maybe more along the lines of “NO MORE THOUSAND ISLAND DRESSING!” At least that’s what I would be protesting. But I’m sure they are economical to use, since one of these divided plates holds six different food items without having to worry that the raita and the soup will flood the rice, and the dishwasher has way fewer dishes.

The bathroom was tiny but clean. When I was in it, I thought I was overhearing someone on the restaurant staff talking on a phone just off the kitchen, but when I opened the door to return to my table, I realized that the voice I heard must have been coming through an air duct from whatever is behind (or above?) Everest. Now there’s a mystery for someone out there to solve…

The service was good. (I never had to call over our waitress to get refills on water.) The food was very good. And the prices were reasonable. (Especially since I had purchased a Groupon, which allowed me to order $22 worth of food for only $11.) I give Everest Café a hearty thumbs up!

*even though the plate it was served on was kind of weird…

Neo-Futurists long on laughs, high in energy

13 Apr

Matt PineSteven WestdahlAmy Langer

You know the name of a theater piece is long when it doesn’t fit in the space for the headline. Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind is a memorable name however, and one I’m likely to remember for awhile.

I mainly use Goldstar to get cheaper tickets for events I already plan to attend and don’t usually bother perusing the multitude of offerings. But something made me scroll down. And there, just below an event celebrating two generations of Bach at Davies Symphony Hall and just above a magic storytelling show was this:

30 Plays in 60 Minutes:

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

 I was intrigued, so I clicked on it. This was the description given:

Created by Greg Allen, and written and performed by the Neo-Futurists, the original production in Chicago has been continuously running since the Reagan administration, and now San Francisco has its own sibling company. This innovative show is an ever-changing attempt to perform 30 plays in one hour. The “menu” of plays is strung up on a clothesline and the audience determines the order by yelling out which piece they want to see next. Every performance is a unique experience, and the Neo-Futurists are masters of creating funny, personal, abstract, political and poignant plays.

TMLMTBGB's Apollo 11 lunar landing

“Apollo 11 Lunar Landing” (Yes, that is an American flag in those buttocks.)

I really wasn’t sure what to expect. But at the basement bargain price of $5.50 (via aforementioned Goldstar) I figured, what the heck? I love theater and enjoy seeing it in various forms. And I admit to being curious about how anyone could stage thirty plays in an hour. And my husband, Dave, is always up for anything.

I am so glad we went! Everything about it is quirky, down to the little plastic army men that are distributed to those who show up at the theater who have not bought tickets in advance. And the price at the door is $10 plus whatever you roll on one of their big foam dice. (Because I had paid online, I received a golden token rather than an army man.)

Ryan GoodWhen you enter the performance space itself, you are given a name tag with a name created for you on the spot. My name was Prince, and Dave was dubbed Jamz. I’m pretty sure I saw one person’s name tag with the word bookshelf on it.

The five actors had high energy and seemed to be having a great time. (I guess I should refer to them as actor/playwrights since they not only performed thirty plays but wrote them too.) Now, these were not plays in the strictly traditional sense. But actually I think the word play is perfect for what we saw last night. There were no Aristotelian story arcs, and nobody is going to mistake any of the language for Shakespeare—although one of the mini-plays was “Things that Sound Like Hamlet”— but there was definitely an atmosphere of play, in that they were playing around, playing with the audience, and playing a game in which they attempted to get through all thirty plays in the allotted hour.

TMLMTBGB clothed chaos crowd control

Steven & Dave in “Clothed Chaos Crowd Control”

Informal audience participation was a big part of the production.  Each of the players pulled a partner onstage for “Clothed Chaos Crowd Control,” in which they manically put on clothes from a pile and danced short spurts at specific intervals to some fast-paced music. Despite having completed a 28-mile bike ride earlier in the day, Dave danced up a storm when he joined Steven.(See blurry photo.)

I was bestowed the honor of calling out the title of the first play of the evening: “I want to watch you eat a peach in slow motion,” which I loved. Steven was the player closest to our seats (against the wall and next to the stage), so we could clearly see that he was eating a brown peach that was way past its glory days. But he did so with relish, making nummy noises that could have been a soundtrack to a porn film, while the peach juice dribbled down his chin.

Micael BogerI could go on and on about last night’s experience, but I think that I’ll just provide the link so that you can buy tickets and go see it yourself. My sincere apologies to those of you who don’t live anywhere near San Francisco and so cannot go. But I’m going back. And I’m taking friends. Their website: http://www.sfneofuturists.com/

For tickets: http://www.theatermania.com/san-francisco-theater/shows/too-much-light-makes-the-baby-go-blind_300169/

 

Mary Roach is so funny!

7 Apr

Mary Roach @PegasusLast night Pegasus Books on Shattuck hosted local treasure Mary Roach, bestselling author of Stiff, Packing for Mars, and her most recent offering, Gulp. 

Arriving a half hour early to secure a seat in the front row, I had time to read the first few essays in one of the two books I’d just bought while I waited—My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places, which is a collection of columns she wrote for Reader’s Digest. I laughed out loud as I read. It was like she was her own warm-up act.

By the time she took her place behind the podium, the bookstore was packed with adoring fans, standing against walls and sitting at the foot of bookcases. She started out by telling stories (no notes) with the ease of a friend you’ve known your whole life. Then she read a few hilarious yet informative passages from Gulp and fielded a range of questions that covered writing, science, her family, and her next book project (which is a secret).

Mary Roach book coversNever one to shy away from what the average person might consider gross, Mary has written about dead bodies, fecal transplants, saliva, and the wonders of the anus. She has interviewed a prisoner whose unique talent is smuggling objects where the sun don’t shine, and she spent time on a pig farm and lived to tell the tale. Unfortunately her boots didn’t survive—she was never able to get the smell of pig farm off them and had to throw them out. Ah, the sacrifices we make for our art…

Because I bought two of her books, I was the lucky recipient of a most unusual door prize—a small cloth bag that has the same capacity as one’s rectum, imprinted with a quote from her book.Mary Roach signing

Should circumstance prevent a man from carrying his cigarettes and cell phone in his pants pocket, the rectum provides a workable alternative.

I’m not sure yet how I’ll put this bag to use, but rest assured, it will be given a special purpose.

If you ever get the chance to hear Mary Roach in person, by all means do so. I’ve enjoyed her interviews on radio and TV, but seeing her in person was the best.

Sushi 29 is a real treat

5 Apr

teriyaki salmon don @sushi 29When I realized that the next restaurant lunching down Solano was another sushi place, I thought it was a bit strange that two Japanese restaurants would be so close together. (Just three doors down on the same side of the street is Miyuki, which I reviewed last week.) But they’re really different, so maybe it’s not that strange.

Giant cheerful daisies greet you on the walls of Sushi 29.  (Which match the menus!) I wondered what the name referred to—Sushi 29. Dave surmised that the first 28 sushi places they opened up failed. But our waitperson explained that it’s actually 2, 9 (not twenty-nine), which in texting lingo is “tonight.” I never would have guessed that, but then I’m a middle-aged woman who refuses even to shorten words when she texts, let alone substitute numbers for letters, so perhaps I’m not the demographic they were thinking of…

It was cold and rainy that day, so being served hot tea immediately was quite welcome as was the yummy miso soup. Both my lunch companions ordered the chef’s choice plate because they are adventurous eaters and love sushi. Unlike me. If I weren’t on a mission to eat at every lunch spot on Solano, I never even would have entered a place with sushi as part of the name.

But there was plenty that was not sushi on the menu for me. I got the teriyaki salmon don, which was wonderful. Entrées aren’t cheap, but shelling out an extra $3 for eight adorable and delicious gyoza makes it a better deal. And George proclaimed them the best potstickers he’d ever tasted. And I’m happy to report that I was not served one of those pointless obligatory salads that are never any good anyway. That’s definitely a point in their favor. Another bonus was the refreshing slice of cucumber in nice tall glasses of ice water that got refilled without having to hunt down someone.

Because I don’t do sushi, you’re going to have to trust Dave and George when they say the sashimi was very good and several steps above the last sushi place we visited. To me it was still just various lumps of cold, raw seafood with some seaweed thrown in, though even I have to admit that the fresh flowers and slivers of ginger coaxed into roses made for a lovely presentation.

Dave reports that the bathroom was dark but assured me it was clean. I still don’t understand why restaurants would design restrooms to be purposely dark unless it was their plan not to clean them very well, but maybe I’m just overly suspicious…

Interesting side note: the sushi chef was wearing a Bluetooth. I thought it was so he could talk on the phone while working. Dave suggested that he probably wasn’t grooving on the pop music that was playing in the dining room and was piping in his own soundtrack that fit his particular rhythm of fish chopping.

Sushi 29 is another restaurant that does not accept Solano Avenue Association cards. If I had limited my tour to eating establishments that do take them, I probably would have finished by now.

All in all, a lovely, if rather expensive, lunch. But I guess you get what you pay for. I would say it’s a good spot for special occasions. (Or people with more disposable income than me.)

 

 

Don’t judge Miyuki by its cover

1 Apr

miyuki front

I didn’t have high hopes walking into Miyuki for very shallow reasons—one of them being the unappetizing shade of green paint one sees walking down Solano Avenue. The second was the neglected window box that housed an ancient faded menu, some dead bugs, and even some trash.

But the inside tells a different story.

Our foodie source (okay, George) recommended the lunch specials, which we ordered—$6.95 for soup, salad, tempura, rice, and a teriyaki dish; $9.95 for all that plus sushi. I’m not a sushi eater, so I got the cheaper one while Dave relished the opportunity to get sushi. And since I was famished that particular day, we ordered gyoza to start.

Our miso came right away, which took the chill off, in addition to getting food in my stomach quickly. The potstickers were a pretty good deal, I thought, at 6 for $4.50, though Dave thought they weren’t hot enough.

In the background we heard the sushi chef chopping, but other than that, it was quite peaceful, with only a few other diners sharing the large restaurant with us. I read the small promotional card that promised, “You can taste 3 kinds of sake!!!” I guess that’s one exclamation point per type of sake. The menu also pictured several different colorful Han cocktails, but I had a lot of work to do after lunch, so I declined.

The salad suffered from what I have come to call “the obligatory salad” condition common in Chinese and Japanese restaurants, which is a sign that they just shouldn’t bother. (Note that I did not lump all  Asian-inspired restaurants in this category because I have not noticed this in Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, or Korean dining establishments.)

The tempura was perfect—crispy and light at the same time. My teriyaki chicken was tasty, so I was happy. Dave got the beef teriyaki and was less pleased, but he’s not a teriyaki fan in general. Dave, having been born in Japan and raised in a family who knows its sushi, was also unimpressed with the artificial crab in his California roll, although he conceded that this is common. He wasn’t bowled over by the sashimi either, but hey, it’s a lunch that includes sushi for under ten bucks—whaddya want?

The waiter was thrown by my attempt to pay with Solano Avenue Association cards but kindly asked management, who also didn’t know what they were and therefore didn’t accept them as payment. But it was a filling meal for two for only $23 dollars, so who am I to complain?

miyuki menu

faded menu outside restaurant

The bathroom was light, airy, squeaky clean, and modern. It looked as if it had just gotten a fresh coat of paint. It was the antithesis of the restaurant’s sad outward appearance to passersby.

So don’t write off Miyuki because from the street it looks slightly abandoned. A pleasant, inexpensive lunch experience is on the other side of those sickly green walls.

Back to Lunching Down Solano…

27 Mar
bananas Foster Palace Cafe

Sorry, you can’t get this on Solano Avenue!

 

Okay, I didn’t post a Lunching Down Solano experience last week because I was eating all over New Orleans. But I ate well! (Photo is of my Bananas Foster at the Palace Café in the French Quarter.) In fact, I probably ate too well because I gained five pounds (!) even with all that walking around. But the beignets, jambalaya, hush puppies, and French 75s were awfully good…

To make up for it, I’m covering two lunch spots this week. (Although I really should be dieting pretty seriously.)

But before I launch into any actual reviews, allow me to preface this post by explaining a practice I learned while teaching elementary school. It’s called the compliment sandwich. The idea is that when you’re giving an evaluation of some kind, you begin with something nice and end with something nice. In the middle you fit in the negative bits. For example,

Johnny has wonderful energy! Think of what he could accomplish if he used this energy to complete school work. He should be proud of his spotless attendance record.

This technique is useful in parent conferences and progress reports, but I think it will come in helpful when I review King Tsin’s restaurant on Solano Ave.

The service at King Tsin’s was quite good, and the bathroom was clean.

As far as the food goes, I do recommend the dry green beans. The green onion beef dish was described by my eating companion as “lifeless.” The obligatory accompanying salad was like most others one finds at Chinese restaurants. (I didn’t eat mine.) The hot and sour soup wasn’t bad, and the egg roll was fine.

They don’t accept Solano Avenue Association cards.

The dining room was quiet, and the light fixtures looked like glowing concentric circles of spun sugar. (See below.)Image

Oh, and I noticed only one typo on the menu!

I’m happy to say that all those years of teaching equipped me for circumstances far beyond the reaches of the classroom.

 

Birds, balconies, and statues

20 Mar

birds Jackson Square Dave + Tanya Jackson Square

Inside the gates of Jackson Square is a quiet place to rest one’s weary feet from all the walking one is bound to do in a place like N’awlins. A few people lie right on the grass in the sun. Some take the obligatory photos of Andrew Jackson with St. Louis Cathedral in the background. And the birds are chirping about on the sidewalk wondering where all the crumbs have gone.

Once you exit the gates, you see street musicians, sketch artists, tarot card readers, and a guy with tails and a headset playing either the shell game or 3-card Monty. It’s a beautiful sunny (but not hot) day, and even the Dave on balcony NOLAlocals are probably playing hooky to be outside.

Wandering seems to be a favorite activity, and we do so until we discover Charter House, a restaurant where supposedly Tennessee Williams used to hang out. We sit at a narrow table on the balcony and watch the goings-on below. From our perch above Toulouse Street, we see men laying out cable across the street, setting up for what we first hear is an episode of an upcoming spin-off of NCIS but later find out is just a commercial for the Worldwide Wrestling something-or-other. I don’t know how wrestling connects to Mardi Gras, but that seems to be the theme.Since we get our cocktails in plastic cups, we could take them to go as many do in  the French Quarter, but we enjoy the view and finish them up before continuing our stroll. I indulge in a freshly made French Quarterchocolate praline from a confectionary.

Ah, New Orleans!

I’m in the Big Easy, baby!

18 Mar

Laurie@Bayona (NOLA)

Just walking down the street in New Orleans is like going to the wildest party you’ve ever been to. Especially if you arrive on St. Patrick’s Day, when Shriners in dune buggies are flinging green mardi gras beads—the natural offspring of two holidays that are centered around loud drinking and crazy behavior—to cheering bystanders. But I get the feeling walking down Bourbon Street that, here in Crescent City, any reason is cause enough to celebrate.

We were supposed to meet Kylie at Louis Armstrong Airport, but she missed her flight because snow shut down the light rail system in Baltimore. So Dave and I headed to our vacation rental spot on the edge of the French Quarter and let Kylie take a later shuttle to meet us there.

Women in green tutus and green furry leg warmers walked arm-in-arm with men donning oversized green sequined hats, and everyone had beads of all sizes and colors around their necks. Some wandered down Bourbon Street with to-go cocktails in huge plastic cups and toddlers in strollers. The family that parties together…?

We had a recommendation for Bayona’s on Dauphin street, so we called to see if we needed reservations. The earliest one available was 8:45, but it was 6:30, and we were hungry already. The hostess recognized the 510 area code and asked what part of the Bay Area we lived in. When I replied Berkeley, she told me she lived in Oakland for 15 years and worked at UC Berkeley. Then she asked me how quick we could get there.

Less than fifteen minutes later, we were being seated. And the food was heavenly. We started with a quail salad and a goat cheese crouton with mushrooms in a madeira sauce that melted in your mouth. I got salmon for my entrée, which came with perfectly cooked French string beans and a sweet potato puree. Dave got the tri-tip that came with brussel sprouts and crispy potatoes. And to top it all off, we split a mango cheesecake flan, which was incredible. Amazing food and great service. If you’re in the French Quarter, you should definitely check it out.

When Kylie arrived, she was exhausted and starving. We found a late-night sushi place where she got udon, Dave got sushi, and I got sake.

Then we fell into bed and slept until 10:30 the next morning!

Tangerine is a one-man operation

15 Mar

Tangerine's doorTangerine is one of those places I’ve walked by and for some reason just never gone in, even though there’s a photo of a baby encircled in a lemon wreath, which I find rather charming.

So Dave and I walked in and were immediately engaged by the owner/chef/cashier/server. He seemed happy with my choices because after each of my selections, he answered with an enthusiastic “Good!” I couldn’t quite pin down his accent, so I asked. (He’s Dutch.) It’s a one-man operation where you can see the day’s salads through the glass and order at the counter.

It’s pretty simple fare. There are a few sandwiches and six (I think)  salads to choose from, as well as a chicken plate, a salmon plate, and a soup. Tangerine's lentil soup & pastrami sandwich

Dave got a pastrami sandwich and lentil soup. I tasted the lentil soup and really liked it. He said the bread was good but was pretty big compared to the meat portion. (Sort of the opposite of La Farine’s very meaty sandwich.) The plates come with field greens and two side salads. None of the salads looked unusual or special, so I got a fruit salad and a Greek salad to accompany my salmon. The salmon was fine—it was salmon. It did come with a homemade tapenade. Unfortunately, I am pretty strict on my anti-olive stance. (Not for political reasons—I just can’t stand them.) So Dave got my tapenade to add to his sandwich—which already came with tapenade, but he likes it—so he was happy. And the cantaloupe and grapes were fine—no surprises there. The Greek salad didn’t seem to have any dressing on it, so it was very healthy.Tangerine's salmon plate

There’s a counter that overlooks Solano Avenue, but it’s mostly a place where people pick up food to go. Which is why even if you eat there, you get to-go containers for your food. But it’s not Styrofoam—it’s all compostable stuff.

Our host was very friendly and asked us how our meal was. His demeanor was the best part of our lunch there. I might go back just to chat with him.

On a totally separate note, the spell-checker on my laptop tried to substitute tamponade* for tapenade. Who programmed that?

*I had to look it up. It means “compression of the heart by an accumulation of fluid in the pericardial sac.” And that’s supposed to be more common than tapenade? Please…

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